Paddle - BWCA, Quetico, Sylvania, and other paddling places

Fall exploration of the Kawishiwi triangle

By TuscaroraBorealis Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (0)
Dates:September 30, 2016 - October 3, 2016
Entry Point:31 - Farm Lake (BWCA)
Lakes:Clear, Eskwagama, Farm, Kawishiwi River, North Branch Kawishiwi

Friday, September 30, 2016

Since we didn't figure this would be an aggressive trip, we are in no particular hurry this morning and enjoy a hot breakfast at Grandma & Grandpa's before driving up to Spirit of the Wilderness outfitters in Ely to grab some last second items and grab our permit (I hadn't reserved one). By this time the sun had taken the edge of a brisk fall morning, peaking our enthusiasm as we prepare to embark.

EP landing

There is a slight breeze as were paddle across Farm Lake. Aurora is fascinated with her new binoculars and scans the horizon, pointing out various colorful trees etc. There are a couple of motorboats out on the lake but, they are far enough off in the distance as to not be a serious distraction. We soon pass by the last cabins and cross into the wilderness.

scanning the horizons

A silver canoe is spotted on the far horizon & the occupants appear to have claimed the site on the northern shore. Pressing on, we paddle into the narrows and decide to pull off at an inviting tiny island to stretch out. Aurora quickly dubs it mushroom island, due to the many fungii scattered throughout. Sporting several sawed off stumps, it appears this island may have served as a campsite at one time. Refreshed, we push off to continue our journey.

mushroom island

Easily paddling right through the 2 chutes (no portages required) we round the bend and head south to the Clear Lake portage trail. There is a large uprooted tree were we presume the landing is, Vickie hops out & quickly confirms there is a trail. Unfortunately we soon find that this is NOT the portage but, not before having hauled our first load 20+ rods into the woods. As we return to the landing we find another canoe unloading their gear & a third group out in the bay paddling towards us too. Comparing maps, we agree this is the right spot (at least as indicated on the maps). The third party soon confirms that the actual portage is just a little further south, actually at the bottom of the southern finger of this bay; not where our (and every map I've seen since) shows it to be.

Needless to say, both groups now have the drop on us. Considering the time of day, we dishearteningly agree that both groups will be staying on Clear Lake. So, before committing to the portage we decide to check out the site just NE of our present location. We find it unoccupied and acceptable, so we just decide to call this our home.

Located just below the rapids that necessitate a 10 rod portage, it sits high above the river providing nice views of the fall colors. The landing it quite nice and there are good sitting logs around the grate. Although, the kitchen area is sloping towards the river and most of the tent pads are plagued with rocks & roots. A larger group probably wouldn't do well here but, it works out quite nicely for the 3 of us.

quiet shoreline

Saturday, October 01, 2016

We decide to explore the 210 rod portage today. So after a filling scrambled egg breakfast, we do the short paddle over to the 10 rod portage. Our first of the trip! It's a flat nondescript path with a few boulders along the way. The landing on the north side proves to be a little tight & I need to paddle out and turn the canoe around so Vickie can hop in. It doesn't take Vickie long to hook the first fish of the trip (a small northern) as we paddle over to our next portage.

This trail is a little more difficult but, still rather easy. After bringing the canoe across we opt to explore the shoreline of this chute. If it wasn't for a large immovable log,that a beaver has chewed down, laying across the river; I wouldn't have a problem running this rapids - even in a kevlar canoe. As it is we'll use the portage on the way back.


There is a beautiful landing at the start of the long 210 rod portage. Large pines canopy the area & there are trails leading to river and views of the scenic rapids. We opt to walk up the river bed & shoreline for awhile. The fall colors really make this a magical experience and are able to cover a fair distance before the terrain forces us to bushwhack out to the portage trail.

walking the rapids

We hike down the portage trail for awhile before veering off to go checkout the waterfall. The spur trail is pretty obvious to locate, especially if using your ears as well. Skirting around the dried up, boulder strewn shoreline we hook up again with the path near the falls. Once again the fall colors are brilliant here, and we lounge here in carefree splendor. I even stumble across a few prime pieces of birch bark we can use later.

Family photo by Kawishiwi River waterfallKawishiwi River waterfall

Reluctantly we eventually depart and finish our exploration of the portage before returning from whence we came. On the way back Vickie hooks into a monster smallie that gives her quite the battle. I estimate it goes between 4-5 pounds. Not to be out done, Aurora soon pulls in a chunky northern which (to date) qualifies as her biggest fish ever. She's thrilled! Next, the rapids near our camp deserve a closer look see. We all have fun playing in the rapids & I spy some nice sun bleached logs that will serve well as firewood.

Kawishiwi River campfire

Vickie & Aurora decide to bake up some muffins for a late night snack. I don't think Vickie needs to wash the spoon or bowl afterwards!

mixing batterlicking the spoon

Sunday, October 02, 2016

There are a couple of unique boulders out in the water just south of us. Today we will finally tackle the Clear Lake portage. We have NO trouble locating it! :) It has some elevation changes & muddy spots but, mostly it's about overcoming the length.

Double boulders

Yet again we a treated to a glorious sunny fall day. A large group passes by us as we paddle for the Eskwagama Lake portage. I hadn't previously visited this lake when I've been in this area so I wanted to check it out this trip. Also, I grew up on a lake of the same name (at least phonetically) - Esquagamah. The portage in was easy to find and the first 3/4 provided a nice undulating walk in the woods. About 20 rods from the Eskwagama end the trail becomes mushy & eventually morphs into a bog walk. For us it was no trouble and Aurora was fascinated with it. But, I could envision this being more trouble in wetter conditions. Vickie inadvertently drops her map along the trail, giving Aurora an extended opportunity to play on the spongy ground while I hike back to see if I can find it.

Eskwagama Lake landing

Eskwagama proves to be a beautiful lake, not nearly as low lying as expected. Unwittingly we stumble onto an unmarked campsite located at about 4 o'clock (if the lake were a clock). Both of us agree that it is a nice site worthy of 4 stars, and we spend some time exploring this site. Pushing on to our next portage we find the landing a little overgrown. I reason that perhaps since it is so wet here, the grass just keeps growing. The path surmounts a gradual rise then drops down to our next dilemma. There is water across the trail before it climbs again in about 10-15 rods. I put Aurora in the canoe and begin pulling it across. Eventually the water is over knee deep and I even see fish swimming by. While this is not my ideal mode of travel, I'm mostly unfazed by the experience. On the other hand, Vickie absolutely LOATHES walking through muddy sections like this and the histrionic show she puts on clearly reveals that fact. As fate would have it, somehow Vickie's camera pricelessly records the whole event for posterity. There's no video but, the audio gives a vividly clear picture as to whats going on.

walking through water

No sooner do we crawl ashore than we see the trail drop back down into the water. It's here that we realize we could've avoided this whole section and just paddled up to the large beaver dam before starting the portage. I guess hind sight is 20/20. Of course this does nothing to soothe Vickie's psyche.

There are a few groups out and about as we start navigating the Kawishiwi River. We need to hop out of the canoe to pull the canoe through the rapids where the river narrows just before turning NE towards the 30 rod portage. We pull off at the campsite just before that portage to take a break. It's a very nice camp and Vickie captures a classic picture of Aurora & I. She wants us to throw rocks into the river with her & is told right after we take a picture. We dubbed it "waiting patiently".

waiting patientlyKawishiwi River camp

The 30 rod portage has a decent climb over a good trail. We are able to paddle/pole right up the rapids at the next portage then opt to take the 15 rod trail before turning west to claim a campsite as our lunch spot. I had stayed on the first site, after the narrows, years ago with a friend. It had an old wooden box latrine still standing at that time & I was hoping it would be open so we could show that to Aurora. Alas, it isn't meant to be as the site is occupied. However we find the next site, just west, open so we pull off here.

Island camp

An inviting, though rocky, landing guides us into this expansive site. Aurora delights in the massive boulder outcropping while Vickie prepares minestrone soup for supper. The kitchen area is open and offers little in the way of shade or shelter. There are, however, a few nice tent pads back away in the woods. As Vickie is finishing supper, I help Aurora catch a crayfish which helps keep her occupied until we are ready to leave.

It is an absolutely gorgeous, tranquil fall evening as we navigate the maze of bends, bays and fingers of the Kawishiwi River. The shimmering glow of fall colors on the mirrored water is both breath taking & invigorating. Soon we are back to familiar territory and carry across the the 210 rod portage, and the 2 subsequent shorter trails before reaching camp.

Paddling back to camp

Once back in camp, Aurora and I use the last bastions of daylight to catch more crayfish & frogs. Fellow member 'HeavyCanoe' paddles past and we exchange hellos. After sundown, Aurora gets to throw a couple packs of color into the campfire while Vickie & I enjoy the quiet relaxation of our last night in the wilderness.


Monday, October 03, 2016

Fall colors

While it is shaping up to be another picture perfect day, our tent, tarp & hammock are still heavily saturated with dew as we begin packing them away. Aurora heads back down to the river and catches a few more frogs & crayfish while Vickie and I finish packing things away. We have the river to ourselves this morning, and don't encounter anyone until we cross the wilderness boundary. Shortly after doing so, a Forest Service ranger motors up to us and inquires if we had heard or seen a motorized watercraft during our stay. We had heard a motor off in the distance one evening but, since we were camped virtually right on the wilderness boundary, figured it was coming from someone on a non-wilderness lake. He thanks us & moves on without questioning us further.

There's a little chop out on Farm Lake and we're forced to take a line that's a bit off course so we can quarter the waves. The landing proves to be a busy place as there are several (motorized) boats coming and going. Once we're loaded up, it's off to The Boathouse for some grub and to fill a few growlers for back home. Then a short visit at Grandpa & Grandma's before the drive home.

Besides the aforementioned set of binoculars. New gear for this trip included a Body Glove PFD for Aurora. There were no complaints, so I presume it worked just fine for her. Vickie used a new pillow that she seems very happy with (presently forgetting the brand). And, this was the first use of our new Irwin saw. I was amazed at how dull our other one had gotten as the new one really ripped through the wood. Great product! Thanks again to PortageKeeper for the recommendation.

Considering it was October, I was slightly surprised at how much traffic we encountered on this trip. But, since it is such a great area, and so easily accessed from multiple EP's, I guess I shouldn't be. Still, it goes without saying, that we achieved a far greater sense of remoteness/solitude than if we would've done this trip during the summer months. (Which is precisely why we like to hit these areas during shoulder seasons.)

In one sense it was unfortunate that we didn't get to camp on Clear Lake. But, I think things worked out just fine regardless. We had beautiful weather throughout, no bugs, memorable fishing and Eskwagama Lake (not just the campsite) was a pleasant surprise. The several scenic rapids and the waterfall were all fun to discover and explore. And, as always, it's always fun to see how Aurora grows each trip and what new things will fascinate her. But, I think this trip will always be remembered for Vickie's unforgettable performance along the Eskwagama portage.

Heading home

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